Modern & Contemporary Middle East

Exhibition 1 at IAIA

By Roxane Zand

The role of NGOs has never been more important as the world's political climate heats up over random acts of terrorism. All eyes are on the Middle East as a region where the good, the bad and the ugly co-exist in unexpected ways. What needs to be highlighted is that the culture and heritage of the Middle East transcends its periodic political ramifications. Nowhere is the refinement and beauty of modern Islamic art production more evident than at a small gem of an exhibition in New York - the brainchild of Mohamed Rashid Al-Thani who has recently founded the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art. His vision is to fill a gaping cultural void in North America. Elegant, refined and soft-spoken, Al-Thani is the perfect embodiment of the values he upholds: cultural versatility, global consciousness, and educated at every level.

Exhibition 1 examines how the geometry of Islamic architecture can serve as the cornerstone of an artist's visual vocabulary. Featuring works on paper and prints by Saudi artist Dana Awartani, Iranian Monir FarmanFarmaian, Indian artist Zarina Hashmi, and Nasreen Mohamedi from Pakistan, the show considers how these sacred geometries seep into an artist's consciousness and affect her work.


Dana and Monir start many of their drawings with the foundations of all Islamic geometry: the point and the circle. These fundamental components gradually evolve into complex webs of shape and form, resulting in two profoundly individual aesthetics.

While Nasreen approaches her work with delicate intricacy, reducing images and forms into lines that become rhythmic patterns, Zarina forges a relationship to architecture through her sensibility of space, in which minimal gestures, guided by a sense of nostalgia, accrue to become abstracted blueprints.

The journey through these artists' works is nothing short of a visual feast - an examination of our response to the delicate intricacy and contemplative nature of the principles of Islamic architecture and geometry. To be reminded of the glories of a rich and extraordinary culture is to expose the positive side of a civilisation currently facing many challenges. The Institute of Arab and Islamic Art is to be congratulated on its early success, and deserves support for the dialogues already initiated.

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